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Faith in the face of disaster

admin | 1/18/2012, 7:30 a.m.

More So. Fla Haitians turning to churches for spiritual, material assistance

Two years ago, a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti and killed 316,000 people, according to the Haitian government. To honor the tragedy dozens of events were held throughout South Florida last week. On Thursday, Jan. 11th, a candle light mass commemorating the victims of the earthquake was held at the Notre Dame d`Haiti Catholic Church, a church with one of the biggest Haitian-American congregations in South Florida with over 3,000 members. However, Father Reginald Jean Mary, the rector of Notre Dame dHaiti, wanted the candle light vigil to encompass more than mere remembrance. It [was] a reminder that we have a responsibility as a community and as a nation, to honor. he said. This [was] a call of renewal to our commitment to Haiti and not to forget what happened.

A mass tragedy

The earthquake in Haiti affected our [faith] community very much, Jean-Mary revealed. There were many people who died during [church] services. Among the faith leadership that died two years ago was the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Joseph Serge Miot as well as a former seminary friend of Jean-Mary. Yet in spite of its own problems, Notre Dame dHaiti did what it has always done opened its doors to serve the needs of its worshippers. Officially, there were 316,000 deaths caused by the earthquake. Unofficially, countless more people who lost friends, family and loved ones were also affected by the natural disaster. We [had] parishioners who lost fathers and mothers and children in Haiti during the earthquake and it took us a long while to really help those families, the rector explained. The church attempted to fulfill many needs by offering counseling services to grieving members and social services to newly arriving Haitian immigrants fleeing a devastated homeland. In addition to their efforts here, the church has also sponsored 11 missions to take goods, food, medicines and other items to the island nation. Two years later, the church is still seeing the fallout from the earthquake. According to Jean-Mary, the recession has made it even harder for families to support the additional members who may have fled from Haiti. To ease the burden, many Haitians in South Florida turn to the church which oftentimes overwhelms Notre Dames own limited resources. What hurts me very much as a priest is when you see the people who come to you and they are truly in need and you dont have the means so you have to turn them down, he said. Yet Jean-Mary believes that there is still much to be optimistic about for the community and Haiti. He explained further, It hurts but I am also fairly confident we can rise, but it is time to stop playing politics and build up a sense of unity. By Kaila Heard kheard@miamitimesonline.com